Review: Sons of Anarchy ‘Laying Pipe’ – You Made Your Own Choice

Opie’s struggles with the two families in his life were some of Sons of Anarchy‘s early shining moments – especially the first season finale. But the last few years, the show gradually moved away from the Winston family struggles, and his presence felt increasingly tacked on and convenient, except to marvel at how long his hair and beard were.
Really the only compelling thing left about Opie and his family was how the decisions of other people in the club have decimated his family – and boy, did that become important tonight, in a moment that ranks right up there with the show’s most brutal moments – though another character death that comes with a grain of salt.

In many ways, it makes sense to get rid of Opie – without his father, wife, porn star girlfriend, or children around, he’s been relegated to the background, taking the occasional moment away from growing hair and growling to poke at Jax’s morality. If the show needed a death that would both tighten the show’s focus, while establishing momentum for the season and not ruining any of the running threads, Opie is a perfect fit. So seeing him go is not necessarily surprising (Jax spilling all the beans to him in jail certainly rang some serious bells), and it gives the writers the opportunity to feel ‘bold’ without really doing anything truly daring- but the context of Opie’s death, opens a great narrative thread for the show moving forward.

To borrow a phrase from the late Mike Ehrmentraut, half measures are costly things. Jax’s attempts to stall out and weasel his way out of Pope’s demands are ultimately nothing but a bluff, Jax putting on a tough face for a few minutes while he struggled to scheme his way out of another box. But there’s no way to escape the steel box, and Jax’s indecision couldn’t be more costly: he gets a front row seat to Opie’s death, the last person Opie ever sees before the steel pipe he was given to defend himself is buried in the back of his skull. Is Jax really the leader all the biker prophecies have suggested, or is he in way too deep for us to even find out? On some level, Jax didn’t realize how deep he was in until he saw Opie lying motionless on the floor. His decisions have consequences, especially the ones he makes for everyone else around him – a lesson that I hope he’s finally learned.

There’s no doubt Sons wants to get the point across that Pope is a guy on a whole new playing field, and while it’s been quite effective in putting the club in dramatic situations, it’s hard to get a grasp on what his character is really motivated by. When a character crosses the line from typical villain (in SoA, that usually involves some kind of robbery and/or rape) to the Galactus of California, he needs to be given some kind of context: in season 2, it was Zobelle’s love for his daughter and big corporate eyes; season 3 had numerous Irish men with their own grievances and agendas… so what is Pope’s end game, and what is driving him to do this? How did he get into such a powerful position?

These questions aren’t necessarily things I need entire episodes dedicated to – but it’s hard to follow a character who leans on such extremes, without any kind of insight into who the person is. He is intelligent, though, and has one of the episode’s most important lines, pointing out to Jax that there are differences between players and kings, and he might have more of the latter in him than he thought. But to do that, he’s got rule with a strong fist, something Opie’s murder might finally kick into gear for him.

With the nomad home invasions and ever-present RICO problem nipping at his heels, there are boxes upon boxes for SAMCRO to escape from in the coming episodes (or seasons, the RICO story could be part of the show’s endgame eventually). With the last of the Winston family finally laid to rest (at least, those who have been characters on the show since the first season), look for the the nomad issue and whatever is going on with Nero to develop more in the coming weeks. The violent raid at the end of the episode suggests something is sour in Nero’s neighborhood, not to mention Clay knows who he is now, which is bound to cause some kind of issues.

It’s funny how Clay – even after almost being killed – hasn’t learned when to back off, having sex with one of Nero’s employees just to spite Gemma and get her fired up. His personality always draws him to fire, even when he’s still sitting on the side lines, licking his burns from last season. It’s something Gemma suffers from as well, still making attempts to take on Tara and have some sort of influence on the lives of Thomas and Abel. So far, much of the Gemma/Tara action is repeating last season’s verbal sparring, with the children comfortably taking the place of the letters Gemma was hunting for last season. If there’s a weak point in the episode, it’s here, wasting a Drea de Matteo cameo on one of Gemma’s laziest schemes. But I’ve enjoyed this edgier, more confident non-Dr. version of Tara, so I’ll take the predictable bits of story here for the powerhouse performance by Maggie Siff (who’s grown so much from season 1, progress that’s really flourishing in this season’s work).

For the second time in three episodes, a graphic death defines an episode with stronger, subtler character moments without – but this time, feels like its propelling the story forward with some real emotional gusto for the first time in awhile. ‘Laying Pipe’ isn’t a show running on all cylinders, but certainly has opened a window for a tighter, more emotionally driven show without the baggage of Opie’s tragedies hanging on the outskirts.

Grade: B

Other thoughts/observations:

– If this is a war, boy is it a one-sided one right now.

– the worst phrase on dramatic television is “he must’ve”, and it rears its ugly head in Jax and Opie’s conversation in prison. Conveinent assumptions that magically become fact (because the audience already knows it is) are so annoying, even in small story lines. It’s a crutch of cop procedurals, where scripts resemble kindergarten-level connect the dot puzzles.

– after all the faith and respect they showed Jax in Ireland (minus the lying and kid stealing, of course), why can’t Jax get the IRA to send him the big guns? If Jax can force Clay into a corner when it comes to involvement with the club, can’t he use that leverage to get himself approved for shipments? Sticking with Clay’s role on the show, removing Opie takes care of one of Clay’s obstacles back into the club. He could be back in the chair by the season finale, watch out.

– Jax’s attitude towards Tig’s life is …. interesting, to say the least.

– who was behind the raid on Nero? And why did nobody care about the dead guy on the ground?

– “This is my hell, bitch.” Such a terrible, terrible line. Not a fan of the sergeant (and glad we only spent one episode in the world’s most crooked prison), but looks like he’ll be around for a little bit.

– Jax should’ve given up Otto! There goes RICO, and then Pope has a dead Son. Anybody opposed to that simple plan that keeps everyone alive?

– Not a very fair exit for Opie, whose time on the show ends with a whimper. I’ve missed the dynamics of his character the last couple seasons as he’s been pushed into the background as a reactionary character, and I’ll certainly miss Ryan Hurst’s bearded mug on the screen every week.

What did you think of ‘Laying Pipe’ and Opie’s death? Feel free to leave your thoughts/comments below!

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